About Grant Montgomery

Grant Montgomery is co-founder of Family Care Foundation (FCF), a 501c3 that provides emergency services and sustained development for communities, families and children in 50 countries.

Jimmy Carter on moving forward with North Korea’s leaders

Excerpts of a Washington Post article by former President Jimmy Carter:

As the world knows, we face the strong possibility of another Korean war, with potentially devastating consequences to the Korean Peninsula, Japan, our outlying territories in the Pacific and perhaps the mainland of the United States. This is the most serious existing threat to world peace, and it is imperative that Pyongyang and Washington find some way to ease the escalating tension and reach a lasting, peaceful agreement.

Over more than 20 years, I have spent many hours in discussions with top North Korean officials and private citizens during visits to Pyongyang and to the countryside. I found [many of the] leaders to be both completely rational and dedicated to the preservation of their regime.

What the officials have always demanded is direct talks with the United States, leading to a permanent peace treaty to replace the still-prevailing 1953 cease-fire that has failed to end the Korean conflict. They want an end to sanctions, a guarantee that there will be no military attack on a peaceful North Korea, and eventual normal relations between their country and the international community. There is no remaining chance that it will agree to a total denuclearization, as it has seen what happened in a denuclearized Libya and assessed the doubtful status of U.S. adherence to the Iran nuclear agreement.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s statement last week that “we have lines of communications to Pyongyang. We’re not in a dark situation” is a good first step to defusing tensions.

The next step should be for the United States to offer to send a high-level delegation to Pyongyang for peace talks or to support an international conference including North and South Korea, the United States and China, at a mutually acceptable.

‘We would never think of eating for pleasure,’ recalls North Korea defector

Yoon Ok, whose full name is being withheld because of concerns her outspokenness will jeopardize the safety of family still in North Korea, recalls one particular Lunar New Year’s Day. She noticed fireworks and lights blazing in China, while her town received electricity only for a few hours a night.

“I was wondering — why is that country so bright, with so many lights during the day,” she said. “It’s just a border crossing. Why is it so much brighter than North Korea?”

She also watched television from China, where she would sometimes see South Korean soap operas dubbed in Chinese. She didn’t understand the language, but the images made it clear to her that South Korea was a place where she wanted to go. “Their lifestyle was very carefree, freewheeling,” she said. “If they want to do something, they can do something. if they want to travel somewhere, they travel. I could see that life is much freer than in North Korea.”

Yoon Ok made it to South Korea, and found a kitchen job in a Seoul restaurant. She fell in love with cooking and has begun taking classes with a goal of starting her own food truck and perhaps one day bringing it to North Korea.

“In North Korea, we would never think of eating for pleasure,” she said. “Eating was for survival.

“If I have an opportunity to go back or if Korea unifies as one nation, I want to cook for the people in North Korea who couldn’t enjoy eating. I hope they too can have bigger dreams of their own someday.”

[USA Today]

The message behind the liquid VX murder of Kim Jong Nam

Two women accused of fatally poisoning the estranged half brother of North Korea’s ruler pleaded not guilty as their trial began Monday in Malaysia’s High Court, nearly eight months after the brazen airport assassination that sparked a diplomatic standoff.

In a case with a thousand plot twists, there has been but one constant in the murder investigation of Kim Jong Nam: Nothing is ever what it seems. The two women accused of killing the playboy half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un appear to be hired dupes, paid a few dollars to perform what they thought was a reality-TV stunt.  Stranger still was the murder weapon, liquid VX, a toxin so powerful that a few drops rubbed onto the skin killed the victim in minutes, yet it failed to harm the two women who applied the poison with their bare hands.

Some of the mysteries behind Kim Jong Nam’s death inside a Malaysian airport terminal will likely never be resolved. But U.S. and Asian officials have a clearer view of the attack’s significance. In carrying out history’s first state-sponsored VX assassination in a country 3,000 miles from its borders, North Korea has demonstrated a new willingness to use its formidable arsenal of deadly toxins and poisons to kill or intimidate enemies on foreign soil, analysts say.

Kim Jong Nam’s killing now looks to many experts like a proving exercise for a weapons system — in this case, a robust chemical-weapons stockpile that Pyongyang is thought to have built over decades and kept carefully under wraps.

A State Department report in 2001 found that North Korea was “already self-sufficient” in making all the necessary precursors for sarin and VX, as well as older weapons such as mustard gas. Drawing from an array of sources — from North Korean defectors and spies to satellite photos and electronic eavesdropping — U.S. agencies calculated the size of the country’s chemical stockpile at between 2,500 and 5,000 tons. That’s far larger than Syria’s arsenal at its peak, and larger than any known to exist in the world, except for those built by the Soviet and U.S. militaries during the Cold War.

[Washington Post]

Fighting Kim Jong Un’s regime with information

Park Sang Hak is a slender man with nervous looks, and generally jittery about sharing his whereabouts.

Park Sang Hak’s worries about threats to his life are not farfetched. Six years ago, a North Korean refugee had arranged a meeting with the activist. The two were supposed to meet in broad daylight at a busy intersection. But when he was on his way to the meeting, Park received a phone call from the South Korean intelligence, informing him that the person he was going to meet had been arrested. A sympathizer of the North Korean regime, the alleged refugee was carrying deadly poison, concealed as a ballpoint pen. He was promised around $10,000 for carrying out the assassination and Pyongyang is suspected to be behind the attempt. Park has continued to receive death threats, also targeting his wife and son.

The threats have not deterred Park Sang Hak from pursuing his radical propaganda campaign against Pyongyang. The activist packs flyers, books and transistor radios into specially prepared, cigar-shaped balloons – and flies them across the heavily-militarized border into North Korea. Nothing scares the Kim regime more than a free flow of information to its isolated people.

Activist Park is convinced that his flyers save lives. 20 years ago, he himself came across one – sent as part of the South Korean military’s psychological warfare campaign. A student of electrical engineering in Pyongyang at the time, Park learned for the first time about the notorious internment camps run by his country’s leadership. Park himself had no reason to flee at that time. He came from a privileged family; his father was among the few people in the country who even owned imported Mercedes cars.

After defecting and making it to Seoul, Park could have led a comfortable life there as an intellectual, but in 2003 a refugee from his hometown told him about the fate of Park’s remaining relatives. “My two uncles had been tortured and they died as a result; my fiancée was terribly mutilated; my cousin disappeared without a trace,” said Park. It marked the start of his radical activism, to which he says he has devoted the rest of his life.

[Deutsche Welle]

South Korean program for defectors not working, Seoul lawmaker says

A South Korean program that provides incentives for local businesses to hire North Korean defectors has been completely ineffective since it launched in 2000. Deputy National Assembly Speaker Park Joo-sun said Monday the 17-year-old program has not had the desired results.

The program incentivizes businesses to hire resettled North Koreans by guaranteeing the South’s unification ministry’s “priority purchases” of the firm’s products, should a business hire seven or more defectors.

The unification ministry said there were “only two cases” of firms applying for qualification under the program. The ministry also said only a “minority” of firms made products that qualify as “priority purchase items.”

Park, who explained the program’s history to reporters, challenged the explanation from the ministry, News 1 reported. “The real story is the unification ministry did not promote the program,” Park said.

The South Korean lawmaker said employment is a critical issue for the more than 30,000 resettled North Koreans in the South. North Koreans in the South have said life in the country is difficult for economic and other reasons.

[UPI]

Information the key to changing North Koreans

Kim Seung Chul, a North Korean defector who came to South Korea in 1994, believes that information is key to changing his homeland. Kim founded North Korea Reform Radio in 2007, which currently broadcasts two hours a day of news, information and entertainment over shortwave frequencies. He also occasionally uses remote-controlled balloons to drop leaflets and other information into the country.

“The goal is enlightenment,” he said. “We’re trying to reach North Koreans who are isolated, who don’t have anywhere to listen to real stories or real news, in order to trigger a spark, to give them a vision, something that will bring positive action.”

He estimates that at least 10% of North Korea’s 25 million people have access to foreign media regularly. He and his colleagues also try to target higher-ranking members of the North Korean regime who travel abroad with messages and shows they hope will prove inspirational.

Their tactics can be surprisingly creative. One program Seung Chul has turned to is House of Cards, hoping that its main character will offer some pointers in the dark arts of political maneuvering. “In order for high officials to act wisely against Kim, they will have to act like Frank Underwood,” Seung Chul said. “The revolution shouldn’t be like the ones in Iraq or Libya. It should be led by those intellectual people to make slight changes that lead to a bigger change. The strategic goal is to make North Korea change by itself.”

[USA Today]

US negotiating with North Korea, sort of!

Yesterday Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the US had direct lines of communication with North Korea and that he was trying to “calm things down” following months of escalating rhetoric over Pyongyang’s continued nuclear weapons and ballistic missile tests.

Tillerson, speaking at a press conference in Beijing, said the US made it clear through its direct channels to North Korea that it was seeking peace through talks. “I think the most immediate action that we need is to calm things down,” Tillerson added. “They’re a little overheated right now, and I think we need to calm them down first.”

Then today, President Donald Trump again mocked North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and said his Secretary of State should not bother trying to negotiate with him in an effort to stop the country’s development of nuclear weapons.

“I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man…” Trump said on Twitter. He continued, “…Save your energy Rex, we’ll do what has to be done!”

Asked if the President’s tweets indicate he has decided to abandon the diplomatic track on North Korea, a senior administration official told CNN: “We are still committed to a diplomatic approach.”

In September, Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis had said the goal on North Korea is to reach a diplomatic solution between the countries. The month prior, in August, Mattis stressed the importance of the nation’s diplomatic efforts, particularly through the United Nations, but in September he warned the US would meet threats from North Korea with “a massive military response.”

“I feel like we still have two different polices on North Korea: one at the Department of State and Department of Defense, and another on the President’s Twitter feed,” Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, said.

[Source: CNN]

China stand on North Korean defectors enables a growing human rights crisis

Many eyes are on China, and what its leaders will do to pressure Pyongyang to end its gamesmanship. But another life-threatening crisis is emanating from North Korea that few are watching: China’s apparently expanding dragnet to force back fleeing North Koreans. These forced returns very likely mean that the government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has imprisoned and tortured dozens of refugees.

Starting in July, China appears to have intensified its crackdown on groups of North Koreans trying to move through China in search of protection in a third country, and on the networks of people that facilitate their escape. Human Rights Watch believes that China has also arrested a number of local guides, undermining the capability of networks helping North Koreans to pass through China.

Both China and North Korea have increased the number of their border guards and added more barbed wire fencing to their common border. China has expanded CCTV surveillance and increased checkpoints on roads leading away from the border. Pyongyang has cracked down on networks aiding escaping citizens.

China regularly violates its U.N. Refugee Convention treaty obligations by returning escapees to North Korea, despite the likelihood they will be persecuted, tortured, and subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment for leaving. North Korea’s Ministry of People’s Security enforces a decree that classifies defection as a crime of “treachery against the nation.” Punishments are harsh and can include a death sentence. Others disappear into North Korea’s horrific political prison camp system (kwanliso), to face torture, sexual violence, forced labor, and other inhuman treatment, or forced labor camps, where they can spend years working in harsh and dangerous conditions.

[Read full Pacific Standard article]

North Korean border further tightens

Three men dressed in fishermen garb attempted to cross the Tumen River into China at dawn. But the trio were soon discovered by North Korean border guards patrolling the area.

A Chinese fisherman who last week witnessed the killings of the three men said the guards bashed in the escapee’s heads using the butts off their guns and rocks at the riverside. A source speaking on the Chinese fisherman’s behalf told authorities: “The scene was so brutal that he said he still has nightmares.

“After the bashing ended, the soldiers dropped the lifeless bodies into the river.

“The fisherman was so traumatized by the incident that he has insomnia.”

Kim Jong-un has reportedly told border guards to “shoot anyone who crosses the river on site” as he believes defections have a negative effect on the county’s stability. The new orders come as war with the US looks increasingly more likely.

In the past, patrolling soldiers would arrest escapees attempting to cross the river.

[Daily Star]

China frustrated as North Korean crisis spirals

The view from China could hardly be much worse: the leaders of North Korea and the United States threatening to rain down total destruction on each other, while U.S. bombers and fighters stage a show of military might close to China’s shores. Behind closed doors, experts said Beijing is as frustrated with North Korea, and with the situation, as it has ever been.

As North Korea’s dominant trading partner, China is widely seen as the key to solving the crisis, yet experts say its influence over Pyongyang has never been weaker.

“The North Koreans have figured out that the Chinese are genuinely in a bind,” said Euan Graham, director of the International Security Program at the Lowy Institute in Sydney. “Having cried wolf for so long about having limited influence, the Chinese genuinely do have limited influence in North Korea right now. It’s not just weasel words.”

China is not prepared to do anything that might bring down the North Korean regime, potentially bringing refugees streaming across its border and unifying the Korean Peninsula under a U.S.-friendly government. North Korea’s leaders, experts in brinkmanship, know that full well, and this knowledge has allowed them to call China’s bluff repeatedly.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has never met Kim Jong-un, and the two men are thought to hold each other in contempt. China’s attempts to send an envoy to Pyongyang to calm the situation have been rebuffed. So while Seoul cooperates with Washington, Pyongyang is freezing out Beijing.

 [The Washington Post]